Leopard geckos are fascinating animals, and they make good pets, even for first-time gecko owners.
This care sheet will give you all of the information you need to provide your leopard gecko with a proper habitat, environment, and diet.
You will also learn about leopard geckos behaviors and how to recognize signs of illness and disease.
Some Facts About the Leopard Gecko
The leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius) is a type of lizard native to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and northwestern India.
These hardy ground-dwellers thrive in the rocky, arid grasslands and desert regions.
Because they are exothermic, leopard geckos rely on external sources to regulate their body heat.
They will regularly burrow to escape the sun’s heat during the day, and they come out at night to hunt when the temperatures are more favorable.
Leopard geckos have been bred in the United States for more than 30 years, and they are thought to be the first domesticated lizard and the most common reptile pet.
Pet Stores and individual breeders sell leopard geckos, with the more common varieties being the least expensive and the more rare color variations selling for several hundred dollars.
A leopard gecko’s average lifespan is ten years, but they will live for 20 years or more with proper care.
Leopard Gecko Appearance
Male leopard geckos are usually larger than females and measure between 7-11″ inches (28 cm) and weigh 70-100 grams.
Female leopard geckos measure between 6-8″ inches (20 cm) and weigh 40-90 grams.
The small, triangular head shape of a leopard gecko is similar to other gecko species, and they have a long body with a thick tail.
The tail is where the gecko stores fat, so a chunky tail is a sign of a well-fed animal.
Leopard geckos have been bred with many exciting color mutations over the years, including lavender, tangerine, and yellow, with black or brown striping or spotting.
There are also albinism cases, which produces a solid white coloring, and melanism, which gives the gecko a solid black coloring.
These color variations are very expensive, with solid black leopard geckos selling for thousands of dollars.
The spots on a leopard gecko also have various patterns ranging from rosettes, solid spots, stripes, and irregular blotches.
A Hypo melanistic leopard gecko will have fewer than ten spots on its body, with the spots only appearing on the head and tail.
A leopard gecko with absolutely no spots on its body is considered to be Super Hypo melanistic.
A leopard gecko’s eyes usually have slit pupils, but many different mutations are specifically bred for.
These eye mutations include solid black or red coloring (eclipse), streaks of the pupil in the iris (snake eyes), and spotting within the iris (marble eyes).
The coloring of leopard geckos will change until they are between 12-18 months old when their pattern becomes more apparent.
Leopard geckos may become darker in color when they reach old age, and they will also darken their skin if they get cold.
There are two unique characteristics of leopard geckos, setting them apart from other gecko species.
Unlike other geckos, leopard geckos have functioning eyelids allowing them to blink and sleep with their eyes closed.
Instead of suction pads on their feet bottoms, leopard geckos have slender digits with long claws.
This unique feature means the leopard gecko is not an adept climber, but it helps this ground-dwelling lizard for digging burrows.
The Best Type of Enclosure For Leopard Gecko
Since leopard geckos are not climbers, it is best to choose an enclosure longer than it is tall.
A 20-gallon long aquarium with a mesh top is ideal for housing one leopard gecko.
The glass sides prevent a leopard gecko from escaping because they can not climb smooth surfaces due to their lack of suction pads.
Glass sides also help the enclosure retain heat and maintain the proper temperature and humidity for your gecko.
If you have more than one leopard gecko, opt for a larger tank of at least 40-gallons.
The larger tank will allow you to place separate hiding spots for each gecko, making it feel secure and lowering its stress.
The enclosure needs to be long enough to have three separate temperature zones ranging from warm to cool, with an ambient middle temperature in the tank’s center.
Optimal Temperature and Humidity
Since leopard geckos can not regulate their temperature on their own, they need different temperature zones within their enclosure.
This temperature range is accomplished by placing an infrared heating lamp above the warm end, reaching temperatures between 85-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
Choosing an infrared heat lamp is essential because it emits a light which does not interfere with nocturnal animals like leopard geckos.
The ambient temperature in the middle should be close to 75° degrees Fahrenheit (24° C), and there shouldn’t be any heating lamp or other heat sources within this area.
The other end of the enclosure will naturally be cooler than the end with the heat lamp and provide a place for your leopard gecko to escape the heat.
Use a thermometer to monitor the temperatures inside your leopard gecko’s enclosure regularly.
The proper humidity inside a leopard gecko enclosure should be between 30%-40% on the cooler side.
Humidity should also be regularly checked using a hygrometer, as proper humidity is vital for many bodily functions of leopard geckos.
A dry environment will cause shedding problems, and too much moisture will lead to respiratory issues, skin infections, and fungal growth inside the enclosure.
Types of Substrate
Substrate is the material placed on the bottom of the leopard gecko’s enclosure used as a floor and bedding.
There are many substrate types, including reptile carpet, newspaper, shelf liners, tile, and bioactive substrates mimicking the leopard gecko’s natural environment.
A bioactive substrate is a great choice because it is low maintenance thanks to tank custodian insects’ help, and it also gives the leopard gecko a natural material to burrow and dig into.
Be aware of the contents of the bioactive substrate you choose, as sand particles will cause impaction in your gecko if accidentally ingested.
If you decide to use a bioactive substrate, regularly monitor your leopard gecko’s behavior and ensure they can defecate properly.
Impaction is very dangerous to geckos and requires medical attention from a veterinarian for proper treatment.
Whichever substrate you choose, daily waste removal and cleaning are required, and you should do deep cleaning of the enclosure at least once a month.
For deep cleaning, you should remove everything from the enclosure, including the substrate.
Thoroughly clean any habitat accessories such as feeding dishes and hiding spots in addition to the enclosure tank itself, and allow to dry before putting the habitat back together.
If you are nursing a sick leopard gecko back to health, keep the enclosure simple, and use a paper towel substrate.
The paper towels should be changed several times a day to ensure the habitat is as clean as possible to allow for your gecko to properly heal.
The Leopard Gecko’s Diet
Leopard gecko’s are insectivores, meaning their diet consists of live insects and cannot digest plant fibers.
A leopard gecko is only attracted to live prey, and they will not find dead or freeze-dried insects very appealing.
Common insects to include in your gecko’s diet include mealworms, crickets, dubia roaches, hornworms, silkworms, waxworms, and small locusts.
Mealworms and waxworms have a high amount of fat, so they should be fed sparingly as a treat.
Never feed your leopard geckos bugs which glow, such as lightning bugs or fireflies, as they are very toxic to geckos and will cause death.
Besides providing a variety of live insects, the feeder insects must be properly gut-loaded.
Gut loading involves feeding the insects a healthy diet consisting of dark leafy greens and vegetables regularly and making sure these insects are fed to your leopard gecko within 12-24 hours.
The process of gut loading ensures the insects can provide your gecko with important nutrients.
An empty feeder insect offers very little nutritional value when compared to an insect properly gut-loaded.
You will also need to add a vitamin supplement to your leopard gecko’s diet.
Even properly gut-loaded feeder insects do not provide all of the nutrients your gecko requires.
Insects’ main issue is their low calcium to phosphorus ratio, meaning they contain more phosphorus than calcium.
While phosphorus is necessary to properly metabolize some vitamins and minerals, too much phosphorus has the opposite effect and will inhibit metabolization.
The proper calcium to phosphorus ratio for leopard geckos is 2:1.
Other nutrients vital to leopard geckos are calcium and vitamin D3.
Calcium deficiencies lead to illness and metabolic bone disease, which is incurable and often fatal for leopard geckos.
Calcium supplements usually include vitamin D3, as D3 is necessary for the gecko to properly absorb calcium.
Without D3, a gecko will not metabolize calcium, and it will leach calcium from its bones, leading to a deficiency.
Vitamin and mineral supplements come in powder form, and they should be dusted onto your feeder insects just before you feed them to your leopard gecko.
Dusting feeder insects is done by placing the insects in a plastic bag or container, adding the supplement powder, and lightly shaking the bag to coat the insects.
Lightly misting the insects with water will help the powder stick to them better.
Calcium and multivitamin supplements should be dusted onto the feeder insects at every feeding to ensure your leopard gecko receives the proper nutrition it needs to stay healthy.
A calcium supplement which does not include D3 is safe to place in a shallow dish or pot within your gecko’s enclosure.
This method has mixed results, as geckos do not care for the taste of calcium powder by themselves and may refuse to lick the powder.
It is also difficult to gauge how much calcium your gecko is getting.
If you decide to feed your leopard gecko from a dish inside the enclosure, as opposed to feeding by hand or with tongs, you should choose a dish with rounded, smooth sides.
This prevents feeder insects from escaping.
Remove any feeder insects not eaten within 15-20 minutes.
Some insects, especially crickets, will bite at your gecko, causing discomfort, injury, and possible infection.
In addition to a varied live insect diet paired with vitamin supplements, you also need to provide your leopard gecko with clean freshwater every day.
Monitoring Your Leopard Gecko’s Behavior for Signs of Illness
Healthy leopard geckos will live from 10-20 years with proper care.
A healthy gecko’s signs and behaviors include clear eyes and nostrils, alertness, a clean vent, regular shedding, and a good appetite.
Metabolic bone disease, or MBD, is a disease brought on by a calcium deficiency. There is no cure for MBD, and it leads to a painful death for your gecko.
Symptoms of MBD include lethargy and loss of appetite as well as bowed legs, bone deformities, trembling, seizures, and the gecko’s inability to stand or hold its body up from the ground.
Regularly monitor your leopard gecko’s behavior, and if you notice any signs of illness, seek the care of an exotic reptile veterinarian right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.
“Stick Tail” is a term to describe severe weight loss, usually caused by intestinal infections.
We have a great post dedicated to leopard gecko stick tail issues if you believe your pet may be experiencing this.
Leopard geckos keep their fat reserves in their tail, and when they become very ill and unable to eat for long periods, a gecko’s body will draw from these fat reserves resulting in a very thin tail.
You should seek veterinary care as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying infection.
Although rare, when a leopard gecko is threatened, stressed, or improperly handled, it deploys a defense mechanism known as tail dropping.
The dropped tail will wiggle for up to 30 minutes, giving the gecko enough time to escape any perceived danger.
A leopard gecko’s tail is designed to be dropped and regrown multiple times throughout its life, but the process causes a great deal of stress to the gecko.
You should take special care to keep the leopard gecko as calm and comfortable as possible during the tail regrowth process, which takes several months to complete.
Seeing your gecko drop its tail is very alarming, especially for novice gecko owners, but it is not a life-threatening situation.
You should seek a veterinarian’s care if your leopard gecko drops its tail so the wound may be examined for any possible signs of infection and the proper course of treatment prescribed.
To prevent tail dropping, never grab your leopard gecko by the tail, remove any stressors near your gecko’s habitat, and maintain a clean enclosure.
But if the tail drops we have another post on what to do when a leopard gecko drops its tail going into detail handling the situation.